• My kids are growing too quickly

    Lately, both of my kids have been learning so much and it’s intense seeing them grow before my eyes.

    No. 1 is 4 and has known his ABCs and how to count for a while now, but he’s become so articulate, annunciating every letter perfectly (no elemenopee anymore). He’s also counting into the 40s and higher when reminded of the starting digit. Even more impressive are the questions he’s beginning to ask. Existential questions, and reflecting on complex topics, even accompanied by sadness and even anguish when speaking of loss. Wow.

    No. 2 is 23 months and is saying short sentences and asserting her personhood by claiming ownership of things and not shying away from telling you what’s up, especially to “stop it” when something is bothering her. It won’t be long until she’s speaking in full sentences and becoming her own person, too. In addition to playing with the magnet tiles and more traditional “boy toys”, she’s dressing up and playing with dolls, unprompted or promoted by us, which is just so different from our son’s preferred toys, even though he had access to all the same things she does when he was her age.

    Parenthood is a trip and I love it. Hard, yes, but awesome in all the best ways.

  • An excerpt from an interview with Noam Chomsky prior to the October 7 conflict.

    For 50 years, Israel has been explicitly trying to use the Holocaust as a propaganda weapon to justify crushing the Palestinians, occupying Palestinian territory illegally, practically destroying Gaza [which is] almost unlivable now. A million children can’t even get potable water. The constant atrocities in the West Bank. You read journalists like Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, others, daily reports. They think they can get away with this as long as they can wave the Holocaust in front of people’s eyes.

    I should say, this is explicit. So if you go back to 1973, Abba Eban, a leading Israel statesman and highly respected, wrote a very interesting article in the more liberal Jewish journal in the United States, Congress Weekly. In this article, he said the duty of American Jews is to show that any criticism of what he called Zionism, meaning the policies of his government, any criticism is either anti-semitism if it comes from non-Jews, or neurotic self-hatred if it comes from Jews. And he actually mentioned two people. I was proud to be one of them.

    Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges & Dr. Shir Hever on Israel & Palestine

  • Weekly Update, Oct. 17

    It’s been a busy couple of weeks. But I guess life is just sort of busy now anyways. In no particular order:

    • The weather has officially turned over to Fall and we’ve been getting a lot more rain lately. I don’t mind it yet and the cooler weather has been a welcome change. The next couple of days are supposed to be sunny and I’m looking forward to it. 
    • My kids and I went to the big box home improvement store and picked up a bunch of Halloween decorations. I dipped into some savings for Christmas because my son is all about this holiday. We got a little witch that dances and sings, a skeleton dog, a fun wreath, and some headstones and dirt to make our front garden box look like a graveyard. It’s so much fun seeing these things through the eyes of a 4-year-old. My daughter is about 20 months and she isn’t quite as into them yet. In fact, she’s a bit freaked out by the witch :D.
    • The pumpkins I grew did turn orange! I cut them off their vines a few weeks ago and made sure they got lots of sunshine. The largest of the two turned all the way orange and the smaller one is still a little green, but it made me happy to see they had actually turned because I wasn’t sure if they would. 
    • I started constructing a Mystery Machine (Scooby-Doo) out of boxes I’d procured, just shaping them into a van for now. This week I promised my son we’d paint it. I already got the paint from Joann last weekend, just looking for the time to get it started before Halloween. The idea is that I’ll place it on our wagon and take it with us Trick-or-Treating. 
    • This past weekend we checked out a new park in Hillsboro that has a giant troll play structure constructed out of wood. The kids of course loved it. This area really does have a lot to do for kids and is really family friendly. 
    • My son and I got our Flu shots early last week and my wife took our daughter to do the same. Still have to schedule our Covid boosters. P was running around the doctor’s office and crawling around on the floor. The hospital staff didn’t know what to make of it. I just shrugged and said “he’s 4”. 
    • Last week I was busy cleaning up files and finishing some last minute projects as I was exiting my last role at work, and this week I officially started my new job within a different department. It’s still early, but so far - so good, and the people are really nice. It’s a very different world from what I’m used to, but I welcome the change. 
    • I bought a treadmill and have been keeping up with using it just about every day, sometimes in the morning and other times in the evening. My wife, who was skeptical at first, is even using it a bit herself. I’ve just been throwing on a podcast or some Italian music (I’m trying to learn) or a show and going to town for 30 minutes to an hour. Nothing too intense yet, but I’d really started to feel like my body was working against me lately and figured I’d gone long enough with not having a more regular routine. Hoping I can keep this going and maintain a good, healthy habit. I feel like I’m sleeping better and my mood is improving, too. 
    • I spoke to my mom a few days ago about her and my dad watching out kids while we go to Europe, hopefully in the spring. Sounds like they are definitely up for coming out to Portland and holding down the fort, which would be awesome. A little scary considering we’ve never left our kids for that long, but my wife and I are pretty much on our own out here without much support from family. It will be good for us to do something for ourselves, however strange that aspect may be. Having had that conversation, I feel like we can finally start planning it for real. I would like to visit my ancestral homeland of Vigo di Cadore, Veneto, Italy for starters. Shar seems really excited to be checking out the Dolomites as there’s lots of good hiking to do. We haven’t decided where else we might go, but that’s top of the list. 
    • I’ve never watched too much sports, but I got an ESPN subscription for this winter because apparently the Lions are actually doing pretty well and I’d like to watch this as it’s never occurred in my entire life. My son and I watched the Red Wings last night and they won, 4-0 against the Blue Jackets.
  • More rambling on housing affordability

    Real estate prices have been going down a little, but affordability is still a major issue. For example, a 984 sq. ft. house with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths in my area just sold for $400k.

    To put this price into perspective at current interest rates, a buyer would need an annual household income of about $120,000 to qualify with 5% down.

    The median income for a family of 4 in the Portland region is $114,400. Median income for all households was $81,149 in 2021, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

    You would have to be in about the top 85th percentile of households in terms of income to afford this home in today’s market. The payment would be about $3,100 per month on a standard 30-year mortgage.

  • Weekly Update, Sept. 22

    • The kids are watching a movie (Spy Kids: Armageddon) and my wife is off with her girlfriends paddle boarding. We’re winding down after a somewhat stressful week while DW gets some much needed time for herself.

    • I finished a big report I was writing for work early in the week, a few weeks early no less, so I feel like I can release some of the extra anxiety that has been burdening me unnecessarily. I’ve also been waiting on some pretty important work news since May and I still haven’t gotten any word about it. As a result, I haven’t been sleeping the best again and it’s made for some tougher days than normal, especially with the kids.

    • My daughter was sick and throwing up earlier in the week, so I ended up not working on Tuesday and just taking care of her. It was nice to spend some one-on-one time with her like I did with my son when he was her age. She got over her stomach bug pretty quickly, thankfully.

    • I actually picked up a couple new pieces of clothing. I have a habit of not spending much money on myself in this respect. I don’t know why I’m surprised when I look back at pictures from a few years ago and see myself wearing something that is still in my current wardrobe. So this week I made it a point to go through my things and pull out some stuff that I’m not super thrilled to be wearing anymore and bagged it up to donate. I went up to Marshall’s and actually found a pair of jeans from a brand I like (Madewell) for about 1/5th the cost of new. I like this brand because they don’t use logos and the cuts seem to fit me well.

    • It’s the last day of summer and my favorite time of the year in this part of the world. We’ve been having some pretty clear days, which have been fairly warm and clear but not too hot. Rain is on the horizon, so I’m soaking it up.

    • Halloween is right around the corner and we are all planning on going around the neighborhood dressed up as the Mystery Inc. gang from Scooby-Doo. I am wanting to construct a Mystery Machine out of cardboard, some paint, and a wagon. So I should probably get started on that maybe this weekend. My son and I picked up some decorations from Home Depot, including a nearly full-size skeleton that we hung on the front of the house. I’m also growing some pumpkins for the very first time. The largest of the two appears to be slowly turning orange.

    • I am feeling pretty good heading into the holidays coming up. I have been diligent about putting away a little money here and there for Christmas so we can hopefully just enjoy the season and not stress out about money or over-extending ourselves and putting things on credit.

    • I got a few small things done around the house despite not getting my drywalling project in the kitchen done. I swapped out the valve for the bathroom shower so it no longer drip drip drips! I also fixed the door to my daughter’s room so it doesn’t stick when you open or close it. This was a pain when we’d just put her to bed and the door would squeak when we attempted to leave the room, sometimes waking her up. Used a huge 6” cabinet screw in place of a hinge screw to bring it truer. Good to have these small annoyances taken care of. Hoping to make more progress on the drywall project this week.
  • Anxiety as a parent and raising good humans

    As a parent with anxiety, I can already tell that raising two young children to have confidence in themselves, and to approach new and uneasy social situations with bravery, is going to be difficult for me.

    I had a difficult childhood, complete with a fatherless upbringing and abuse, which affected me in various ways, including low self-esteem. I didn’t participate in many extra curricular activities due to my anxiety. I struggled in school for that reason, too, both socially and academically.

    Now I have to work up the courage myself to encourage my kids to participate in healthy activities when it doesn’t come natural to me. The thought of even being on the sidelines of sporting or music events gives me the a lot of stress. What a strange thing to follow you through life. I guess this an example of generational trauma, in the mildest sense.

  • Autobiographical: Twenty-Year Anniversary of a Course Correction

    I had a flashback this morning as I was getting the kids ready for school that reminded me of a time in my life when everything was so unsettled and chaotic. This seems to happen to me a lot more whenever summer starts to give way to fall, when I can smell the change of season in the air and the evenings get a little bit shorter. The memories of back-to-school anxiousness come flooding back and I get a pang somewhere in the recesses of my brain. Usually I’m transported back to being 13 and crying in the dressing room at Sears while trying on school clothes, but today’s memory was different. 

    A couple of decades ago, after my third term at an enormous university, I flunked out of engineering school. It used to be a pretty big source of embarrassment for me, but after many years of learning about myself, I've come to understand the difficulties I experienced then were less a personal failure than they were the very obvious result of my crippling anxiety and undiagnosed ADHD. I no longer look at that time negatively, but rather an inflection point in my life when I had begun to understand myself better. 

    For the next two and a half years after dropping out, I worked various service jobs and other menial labor for minimum wage, which was $5.15 per hour. I had worked as a pantry cook, gas station attendant, cell phone sales rep, water purification system sales rep, surf and skate shop associate, and I even working for an asbestos abatement contractor one summer. I was always broke and things weren’t going so great, to say the least. Often I found myself wondering what could have been and fell into a major depression. 

    There were a few more twists and turns over this time period that I won’t get into here, but this week marks the 20-year anniversary of me going back to school and restarting my educational journey at a community college. After two years there, I transferred back to university and finished a bachelor’s degree, only to find myself working in a kitchen again because of the Great Recession. During this time, I applied to graduate programs. I was accepted at a top 3 public university, and a couple of years later I received my master’s degree in urban planning. As a result of that, I was finally able to gain a foothold in some meaningful work that actually paid a living wage at the ripe old age of 29. And the rest is history, or so they say. 

    I likely would have avoided a lot of this hardship had I had financial support, well-connected parents, or even health insurance and medication for my anxiety. However, the fact that I did it on my own is a great source of pride now. I look back fondly at my time at community college. In a lot of ways, it was my best higher ed experience of all three I attended. But more than that, it laid the groundwork for the life I love now. 

  • Arizona Bay

    I was having a text conversation with my brother this evening. He hadn’t heard of ChatGPT yet, so I showed him an example and he told me that this reminded him of that song by Tool about California being flushed away into the Pacific Ocean.

    I said, “Arizona Bay?”

    “Yeah,” he said.

    I asked ChatGPT again: “Tell me about the song ‘Arizona Bay’ by Tool.”

    This was its response:

    “Arizona Bay” is not a song by Tool. However, it is a term coined by the band’s lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, and it is the title of a comedy album by comedian Bill Hicks.

    Bill Hicks was a renowned American stand-up comedian known for his thought-provoking and often controversial material. He frequently discussed topics such as politics, society, and religion in his performances. “Arizona Bay” was recorded in 1996 and released posthumously in 1997, following Hicks' death.

    The term “Arizona Bay” itself refers to a hypothetical scenario where the state of Arizona, along with parts of Southern California, would be submerged underwater due to a massive earthquake, resulting in the creation of a new coastline. Hicks used this concept as a metaphor for his vision of a better society, one that would emerge after the collapse of the current societal and political systems.

    Maynard James Keenan, being a fan of Bill Hicks, drew inspiration from his work and incorporated some of Hicks' ideas into Tool’s music. Although “Arizona Bay” is not a song by Tool, the band has paid tribute to Bill Hicks in their performances and even sampled some of his comedy bits in their songs.

    So while “Arizona Bay” may not be a Tool song, it holds significance in the band’s history and the influence of Bill Hicks on their music and worldview.

  • July can go to hell

    Normally I try to keep things fairly light and impersonal here. I may tend toward the dark or sarcastic from time to time, but over all, I’m usually a pretty happy person. However, lately I’ve been feeling a little more easily bruised, overly sensitive, and just generally melancholy. I’ve been wanting to write a little more at length in hopes of lifting some of the weight up off from me, but life’s been pretty busy lately up until right now. And so here I find myself after some dust has settled.

    If you’ve just joined me, or stumbled across this place, my blog, or even if you’re just passively following me from some federated service, you'll probably want to take a pass on reading any more of this post. Fair warning: this is just my petty ramblings for my own personal therapy, nothing more. 

    So, as I said, I’ve been experiencing some mild depression lately. This is pretty out of character for me given that it’s mid-summer. It's not the same old SAD-induced stuff I’m used to experiencing in brief episodes during the wintertime when I’ve long been trapped indoors for weeks and Vitamin D deficient. My skin has been sun-drenched and the evenings have been long. By most accounts, I shouldn’t feel like I do. 

    Although nothing super weighty has happened in my life recently, I’m coming out of a few bad years. I thought I got through most of my feelings, but my grief still pokes its head out from time to time, and sometimes smaller things add up to more than their constituent parts, especially when they're piled up on top of that previous stuff.

    What’s been bothering me more recently, for example, is that some summer plans have just not gone so well. I took my four-year-old son to Michigan recently to celebrate my step-dad’s 60th birthday. And to be completely honest, I didn’t really want to go at first and had to really rally and build up my motivation because the last several trips home haven’t been the most positive experiences.

    For example, a few years ago I flew back home in support of my mom when she was going through post-op chemo for breast cancer. I went back again a couple of years later in 2021 when my brother went into hospice, where he then died a couple weeks later from the brain tumor he had been fighting since being diagnosed in 2014. Then, last year, some drama unfolded between my youngest (living) brother and his now ex-wife over some custody issues with my nephew, all while my whole family was there vacationing.

    So, I might be excused from not being totally thrilled at the prospect of returning. Although much of it was well beyond anyone’s control, it sometimes feels like bad energy just surrounds the place, and I’ve begun to dread going ‘home’ for these kinds of visits because something is always.going.down. My wife even refused to go back this year given past years' experiences, so she stayed here in Oregon with our daughter.

    Despite all this, I did my very best to put my negative feelings aside, for my dad’s sake, but also for my son, who still hadn’t met any of his cousins yet. So I put on my game face and tried my best to just roll with it. And it all really had been going pretty well, too, until about halfway through the trip when I had an argument with my brother and my parents.

    It started when I had something come up at work while we were up at their RV park vacation home, so I had to finish a few things remotely. No big deal. I had already discussed with my parents that I’d have to work a little on this trip, so it wasn’t completely unexpected. They were just happy we were there.

    So when this bit of work came up, my dad asked if he could bring my son down to the beach for a while. I agreed, enthusiastically. My dad’s a great guy and really good with the grandkids. We had just been to the beach the day before and we all had a great time. I figured it would be great bonding time for all of them. Thumbs up. So away they went. 

    When I finished my work about an hour later, I walked down to the beach to join them. At first, I thought everyone had left because I didn’t recognize anyone there. But then I noticed my son’s voice from afar. Surprised, I saw that he was swimming a long ways from shore. And although he was wearing a life jacket, he was about 35-40 feet out from the beach, essentially unsupervised.

    It turned out that my dad had left to take a friend back to camp and he put my brother in charge over my son. However, my brother wasn’t anywhere within line-of-site of my son when I arrived. He was in the water, but on the other side of a floating dock, completely out of view. My son, who cannot swim, was playing by himself in 15 feet of water without an adult watching over him. 

    How long had he been out there? How long had no one been watching him? I struggled to make sense of what was going on. At first, I gave my brother the benefit of the doubt. I just watched. With me there watching, I knew my son wasn’t in any real danger, but I observed to see who was paying attention. As time went on, it became clear that my four-year-old son was really out there all on his own.

    No one was paying any attention to him for at least the 5 minutes I was observing, long enough for something to go horribly wrong. I watched long enough for me to have seen my 4-year-old son struggle to get out of the way of other kids much older and larger than him, playing and jumping off the floating dock in his vicinity. Some kids were jumping right over his head, and he showed signs of struggling to stay above water. It was at this point that I called to him to shore, my brother still out of view on the other side of the floating dock.

    Once back to shore, I kept my cool and didn’t yell, but I told my brother in a bit of an upset tone that my son shouldn’t have been that far out, and that he definitely shouldn’t be left unattended like that. He quickly got offended by this, arguing that my son wasn’t unattended. He acted as if it would’ve been impossible for anything to happen to him while wearing a life jacket.

    I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The icing on the cake was when my brother said something along the lines of “you’re welcome for entertaining your kid for the last couple of hours.” This just left me feeling very hot given that I had just spent 5 hours with his son without my brother the day prior, like he was doing me some enormous favor by spending an hour with my son, his nephew. I know he was just deflecting the fact that he failed to provide the most basic level of care and oversight to my son. 

    I was upset at him, but more than anything, I was upset with my dad for his negligence. Later, my brother told me that my dad didn’t even tell him that he was leaving. I was flabbergasted. My dad’s brother died by drowning at the age of 18, so this fact surprised me even more.

    To top things off, my parents sided with my brother, and my dad basically denied any wrongdoing. My mom has always been protective of my youngest brother, but this was just over the top. She blamed me for stirring up things unnecessarily. 

    I went over the situation again and again in my head to analyze whether I had done something wrong or if I had overreacted. I felt like I was being gaslighted. I wanted to leave, but I was trapped because I was far out in the country and didn’t have a car. And to make matters worse, my dad’s 60th birthday party was to be the next day, the entire purpose for the trip. 

    Thank God nothing happened to my son, but I kept coming back to those first few moments when I saw him out there in the water alone. My stomach turns at the thought. But to be made to doubt the own validity of my feelings instead of acknowledging a mistake and just apologizing? I’m not exaggerating when I say that this experience had me looking back and questioning my own upbringing. 

    It all left me feeling completely disappointed and disrespected by people I thought had more common sense than this, people whom I thought I could trust. I am still working through a lot of feelings about it.

    I spent the evening and much of the rest of the next day removing myself from the situation, staying in another camper. The following evening, I smoothed things over with my brother for the good of the order. It felt like I was lying to myself in doing so, but I didn’t want to ruin my dad’s big event. I’m still feeling deeply hurt by what went down and I’m having trouble trying to figure out how I can move forward given that it’s gone completely unacknowledged since. 

    I left Michigan still pretty salty, but was trying to forget about it, focus on the positive, and look forward to a camping trip I had planned on the Oregon coast the following week—this past weekend. I booked the trip six months ago because state parks open up their registration that far in advance and the good places fill up pretty much instantly out here in Oregon (maybe it’s the same elsewhere, too). I knew the trip would be difficult with a young family, but I really thought we would have a lot of fun, too. Turns out we were not ready for that kind of trip. 

    After days of preparation and loading the van to the roof liner, it was five hours by car until we reached our destination. My first mistake. My one-year-old daughter screamed and cried for at least half of that trip downstate, likely setting some kind of record, but also laying the groundwork for a pretty rough trip.

    Both kids thankfully fell asleep right before we got there, which allowed me and my wife to setup camp fairly quickly and undisturbed. We thought we had gotten over the hump, that we could just enjoy our time there, but unfortunately we were wrong.

    The coast ended up being pretty cold at night, dropping down into the upper 40s and low 50s, but it was the 35 mph wind gusts that really did us in. My wife, who had on several layers of clothes, a sleeping bag, and blankets, couldn’t handle the cold. Then, my daughter kept waking up periodically throughout the night before waking up permanently at between 4 and 5 a.m. each morning. As a result, we were all pretty miserable the entire time despite being in such a beautiful place. After two nights of that, we promptly packed up the van and checked ourselves into the nearest Best Western. 

    For the most part, that went a lot better, albeit with an underlying air of defeat that permeated everything we did the remainder of the trip. Still, $500 later, we had a pool, a hot tub, and a couple warm beds to sleep in. But that wasn’t the end of it.

    Everywhere we went, the kid (my daughter) screamed. Hour trip up the 101 for a hike? Screaming child. Trying to grab some grub at a local brewery with great food and beer? Fussy, crying, screaming child. Spending time at the beach? Screaming child. I think she had just had enough of the road trip life. We all did. I lost my cool at one point and raised my voice, which I regret, feeling completely wiped myself. Most ironically, my son had a great time through all of it and didn’t want it to end. But for me, these experiences have made me want to stay home for the next couple of years.

    I would sometimes think how great it was that I had the opportunity to really plan for my family. That unlike my mom, who was thrust into motherhood as a teenager, I started a family in my late 30s because I had lived so much, settled into my career, and was so financially stable. But then other times, I am just so completely drained that I think I must have been crazy to think this would be easier.

    At any rate, the month of July can go to hell. I will remain within a 15 mile radius for the foreseeable future. I love my family and I love my life, but this summer is testing me. Until next time. 

    Love, Dad

  • Recovering after adventuring with my boy

    Long couple of days, but feeling more alive today after some rest and lots of coffee.

    Got in about 2 a.m. (5 a.m. Eastern) the night before last. Had a couple hour delay with our connecting flight out of Seattle. All told, a 13-hour travel day with my 4 y.o.

    Carried him (40lbs) and his cargo about a mile according to my watch. My legs and arms definitely feel like they got a workout today. I guess that’s how we acquire that coveted “dad bod”.

    Overall, Pax was a trooper though, and is a great traveler despite me having kept him up way past his bedtime.

    At one point, he spilled a half-full glass of apple juice all over himself an hour into our 4.5 hour flight from Detroit and had to fly pants-less (pictured here) for the remainder of the flight. I dried him off with a clean pair of undies I brought in my carry-on, and away we went. I don’t think he minded so much.

  • My 18-month-old sleeps great at night, but she has a hard time napping by herself during the day. My presence is usually enough to calm her anxieties so she can sleep, so I just hang out with her a bit after lunch on the weekends.

    I’ve come to really enjoy this hour (sometimes two) of downtime with her while she sleeps soundly next to me. It’s a bit of a siesta and lets me focus guilt-free on reading, blogging, catching up on news, or checking Mastodon.

  • It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to conquer anything this big in terms of home projects. Honestly, I don’t have many full days to dedicate to projects like this, but I’ve been sneaking in an hour or two here and there. Even though it’s nothing fancy, it feels good to work with my hands.

    Last week I removed a soffit, which previously held some cabinets I removed a few years back. Mostly I’ve just wanted to remove it because it was aesthetically ugly and functionally useless.

    However, we’ve always heard a “knocking” noise from this area whenever anyone showers. It was just enough to be annoying. So, two birds, one stone.

    The knocking was from the expansion and contraction of a plastic pipe across wood. Whenever hot water rushed through the cold pipe, it rubbed against a joist ever so slightly.

    Thankfully I did open it up, though. This is right below where two showers meet on the second floor, so lots of tight plumbing. Turns out that the master bath shower drain had a small leak. We were worried something like that might be the case and didn’t want mold growing under there.

    I pulled out the side wall because it wasn’t mounted well and bowed in the middle. I also wanted to check for mold there.

    On Friday, I replaced the side wall with mold resistant drywall and added outside metal corners. Yesterday, I fixed the leak (and the knock). Tomorrow I drywall the ceiling and start patching.

    Honestly, I might hire out the texture. I’ve never done a job this big and it’s pretty much right in the middle of our house. If I screw that up, there’s no hiding it.


  • What do you want to be when you grow up?

    On the drive to school this morning, the kids were being unusually quiet, so I asked my 4-year-old son if he’d thought anymore about what he wanted to be when he grows up.

    He’s been really interested in Spider-Man lately, so I was expecting to hear the usual stuff like ‘super hero’ or ‘fireman’. But he flipped the script and said he wanted to cut tumors out of people. That caught me off guard and tugged at my heart strings a little.

    Unfortunately, I’ve had to have some tough conversations with him from a pretty young age. One of my younger brothers (his uncle) died in 2021 of a brain tumor at age 37. It was a mixed glioma he had been dealing with for 7 or 8 years, the incurable kind. It was a terribly sad time in my life, one that no doubt impacted my family life. As a result, my son has asked us a lot of questions about my brother and the circumstances surrounding his death.

    These are not topics I ever expected to discuss with him at such an early age, and I hate having to tell him about these realities of life. My natural inclination is to shelter him, and I’ve tried to avoid the topic when possible, or to reframe the discussion, but he is very perceptive and can be quite persistent.

    I try to wrap these conversations up within feelings of gratitude for the lives we have, or in celebration of the life he lived, or with a focus on being in the present moment. But I also don’t want to deny his real feelings on the issue. It’s a lot for a kid to process, coming into awareness of our finite nature, but it’s clear he knows when I’m not being completely transparent with him.

    This morning, he didn’t mention my brother directly when he brought up the tumor comment, but I’m certain that’s where the idea came from. I used this as an opportunity to talk to him about what a surgeon does, how they help people, and that it requires learning a lot of science and how our bodies work. I told him that he could absolutely be a surgeon one day.

    I didn’t have a dad at his age, so I’m especially sensitive to how my words and actions might influence him. Whether he becomes a surgeon or a mechanic, I hope more than anything that I can be a good role model for my kids, and to do a decent job preparing them emotionally to recognize their blessings, weather the difficult times, and have the confidence to go after their dreams.

  • If I could talk to my teenage self

    If I could talk to my teenage self, I would try to convey just how much value there is in being in a field that’s in high demand, and to maybe try to focus on getting a creative role in such a field.

    For the most part, I like what I do as a planner, but there is very little creativity, and the options are extremely limited in terms of where we can go. It hamstrings your ability to move about the country or world, or work remotely for yourself, when you have a career in a field that is so competitive and tied to locations.

    When looking for a job as a planner, not only does there have to be an opening where you want to live, but also the competition is incredibly high for these jobs. Hundreds of people applied for several of the jobs I’ve held. It took me 5 years of applying to land a job in the Portland region because I didn’t live here already or know the state and local land use policies. I had to take a job in an allied field for a few years in order to make my way into a planning role within the same organization.

    The universities just produce too many of us land use urban planners, selling it as a much more interesting and desirable role than it actually is. What we’re sold is this idea that we’ll all be designing livable cities and helping communities become better places. But in reality, It’s mostly thankless work, often viewed as obstructionist to people’s hopes and dreams, and very bureaucratic. We are blamed for things beyond our control, when in reality we implement plans driven by elected officials and their constituents in the community. Too much of our jobs are dictated by accommodating the automobile, too.

    It took so much struggle and hard work to get where I am now, in both my career and in getting to my current location. I am only now at a senior level in my 40s when many of the people with whom I went to grad school left the field altogether long ago to chase better jobs, in better locations.

    Right now, my wife and I are still pining to move abroad for a couple years with our small children. But I am struggling thinking of anything I could do to make a living. There really is no way for me to do my current work and go on such an adventure. I can’t help but think that if I had gone into another role, I would have a lot more flexibility. I am having some regrets about my life choices in this respect.

  • Trying to remain grateful for what we have despite feeling like we're outgrowing our house.

    I bought my house in 2016 before I was married or had kids. Coming from the Midwest, housing prices were pretty crazy out here in the Portland region. Not like the Bay Area by any means, but I only had my own income. I was pre-qualified for a mortgage based on my Midwest salary the year prior. I had very limited options, so I bought a short sale fixer upper. 

    When I moved in, the place was in really rough shape. It had been a rental and I'm told that the last renters had multiple animals, including a potbelly pig. I keep a copy of my inspection report, not only as a list of things that need to be done, but as a reminder of how far it’s come. I’ve done most of the work myself, something I’m pretty proud of considering most of our neighbors even hire out their yard work. Blame it on my blue collar Midwestern upbringing. I’ve invested a lot of sweat into the thing. I have an emotional attachment to the place. 

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to do. It’s still got some pretty ugly laminate flooring downstairs and an old, dated kitchen from the 80s. And there are a few partially completed projects around the house. Those don't bother me too much, although I'm certain my wife might have something to say about that (she says we're not buying another house that isn't "done" -- I don't have the heart to tell her that it's not ever "done").

    What bothers me is that it can feel like the walls are closing in on me now that we’re a family of four. Our house is 1300 square feet and it feels like we’re always right on top of one another. But for us to move into a larger house, we’d be looking at tripling our house payment.

    The plus side of this is that our housing costs are very low. Most of the houses like ours are selling for about double what we paid. Our monthly housing costs are one-half to one-third of what many of our friends pay. For now, this is suiting us fine, especially considering that we have two children in daycare that costs us a couple thousand dollars per month

    Some other financial positives are that, as a result of keeping our housing costs low, we’re able to save 20% for retirement and also put away a few hundred dollars per month for the kids’ college funds. We don’t have a lot left over at the end of the month, but we have an emergency fund that we almost never have to touch and don’t have to budget every penny we have. 

    We don’t have any pressure to move except for our own desires. I’m trying hard to ignore my feelings, but I think social media hasn’t helped (one more reason to perhaps get off it). Since I come from a place where housing prices are way less, I get so see a lot of people back home posting photos of living in beautiful houses. I’m trying very hard to ignore my own jealous feelings and to deny my very American drive toward “more, more, more”, but on the other hand, why should it be so tough when we are considered upper middle class? I know we have so much more than most. I am grateful for what we have. Still, our homes are more than just backdrops, they frame so much of our daily lives. I am still trying to sort my feelings out on this stuff.

  • Spent a good chunk of the weekend cleaning the house and making the yard look presentable because we had some friends and family over on Sunday for a barbecue.

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    The kids played with water balloons and a cheap slip and slide I picked up from Sierra. It was kind of cold but they didn’t seem to mind.

    IMG 2176When they tired of that, they played on the tire swing. That has to be the one thing I’ve ever done that has ever been worth anything, installing that tire swing. It has paid for itself in free entertainment. No matter who comes over, they’re always using the tire swing. 

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    We all sat out on the back deck, had a few drinks, and ate too much food. My mother-in-law and one of her good friends' family came, too.

    After our barbecue, we ran over to the coast on Monday for a short hike. Both of the kids seemed to really enjoy it. I was a little frustrated at first because the trails weren’t clearly marked and we couldn’t find the waterfall we were looking for. But it was hard to stay in a foul mood because the weather cleared and the beach was pretty nice. 

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    I also got most of my tomato starts planted:

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    After a nice long weekend, things have been pretty busy at work in preparation for me starting a new position in a few weeks. I unfortunately got behind on some monotonous tasks while we were out of the office due to Covid, so I’ve been playing catchup with filing and such. I’m also managing a project that is transitioning a very offline bureaucratic process into an online format. It’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to test out the system in real life, but I feel good about leading this project and hopefully providing a good tool for whoever takes my job after I’m gone. 

    I heard from my new boss today. He and the director would like to get coffee with me next week as an informal way to get to know each other better and talk more about the position. I’m looking forward to it, and excited but nervous about the new direction my career is taking. 

  • This must be the place

    You ever look in the mirror and wonder, “who the hell is that?” Seems every day my beard gets a little grayer, my skin a little worse, my body a little more exhausted. I’m trying to age gracefully but the thought of death has been living rent free in my mind since my younger brother passed two years ago and the signs of time passing don’t provide much comfort.

    To be fair, things have been better the last few months. I’m getting good sleep, waking up earlier, showing up in all aspects of my life. In a lot of ways, I feel on top of things, and have a lot that is going well for me. I think I’m a pretty good dad most days, I try to be a good husband, I’ve made a good home for my family, I’m making advances in my career. 

    Still, I have lost a lot of myself since becoming a father a little over 4 years ago. My life is so focused on others that it’s hard to ignore that I often don’t recognize myself anymore, not just physically but also in spirit. I am no longer a naive young man with too much to say, I’m a middle aged guy unsure that he has anything to say at all.

    I know that this is just part of parenthood and that things will never be the same. I also know that I’m in the thickest, deepest part of these woods just given my two kids’ ages. I don’t take for granted that they will never be this age again. I really do try to pour myself into this life and enjoy it at the same time. I’m happy nearly every single day. I find moments of peace and pleasure in small things. I don’t wish this time away for anything.

    Sometimes, I just wish we had a little more help. I just know that I need to block out more intentional time for myself. 

  • Middle Age Experience

    My wife and I are watching Fleishman Is in Trouble on Hulu and I’m really impressed by the writing. No real spoilers here, but I do talk about some basic plot info and some experiences of a supporting actor if you want to skip reading this.

    The main character of the show is Toby Fleishman, a recently divorced middle aged hematologist. His successful ex-wife, a New York City talent rep for performing artists, just disappears one day and doesn’t come back, leaving him and his preteen kids in the dark about her whereabouts. He and his kids are in shock and struggle to make their way in a new life without her.

    Although Fleishman’s experience is the main plot arc, we also learn about the various struggles his friends are experiencing in mid life.

    One of his best friends is Libby, and I find her character especially relatable. Her character is about my age in real life, has been married to a lawyer for a long time, and is having a difficult time getting the recognition she deserves as a female writer at a men’s magazine. She watches as male writers get promoted as she’s passed over.

    On the episode we watched last night (S1 E6), Libby was out at a once-a-year party with old friends whom she knew from studying abroad in Israel in college. She’s drinking and having a great time, but as the night turns late, her husband begins to get snippy with her about wanting to leave. She insists on staying while the husband storms off.

    As she gets more drunk, her feelings about life start to overwhelm her on how dull life becomes in middle age.

    She begins to realize how good her life was when she was young, about things she took for granted. In her search for success and carving out an adult life, she somehow missed that she had so much power in her freedom, which she things she let go of too readily in exchange for stability and security. Now the spice of life has left and all she longs for are the unknowns, the freedom of figuring it all out.

    Personally I’ve been feeling some similar things, although not as deeply. I love the life I’ve created, but there certainly is some personal growth involved in settling into life while also trying to meet some of those core needs and desires we all tend to put aside when starting a family and getting on with a career.

    It’s a struggle to figure out which needs and desires are reasonable when you have to make sacrifices. That can be a tricky negotiation, one that I’m still figuring out and will likely continue to figure out forever. In my heart I know it’s necessary to carve out some life for myself on this never ending path toward self-actualization. It’s the guilt that can come with that negotiation that can be so difficult to get over.

    I don’t know what’s in store for Libby’s character, but it’s comforting just seeing characters in my life stage, at this moment in history, working through similar feelings. In a way, it affirms my feelings that I should be giving myself permission to feel what I feel and explore who I am instead of letting guilt force my hand.

  • Lingering place trauma

    It was what feels like a lifetime ago, but I still have some lingering trauma left over from my teenage years when my mom married my stepdad. I know she didn’t mean to do any harm and was in fact trying to do something positive for herself and her kids.

    She moved me and my brothers out of the city and into the country. It wasn’t cross-country or anything, but it was still far enough away to lose all of my existing friends and to feel very isolated. We were also unable to walk anywhere given the location. Basically the middle of nowhere. Tough on a city kid who was used to running around the neighborhood everyday until the street lights came on.

    I was also bullied for being quiet and different back then. And looking back, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of that had to do with politics that I was too young to fully understand. Even looking at my report cards, I definitely think I was treated differently coming from a more liberal family. I even remember our physical sciences teacher telling us that radio carbon dating was a hoax and that God put dinosaur bones in the ground to trick us, but the world was much younger. Imagine having such a twisted worldview and proselytizing about it to children.

    My wife didn’t fully get it until she visited my parents with me this past year. She used to roll her eyes at me. Thought I was being dramatic. But she could barely handle being there a week before she went crazy. I woke up one morning to her walking up and down my parents’ 200 meter driveway with the baby because the road is a county collector, too busy with with fast cars coming and going between cities. Lots of blind curves and no sidewalks. Besides, nowhere in which to walk.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like being outdoors and visiting rural areas. I even daydream sometimes about having more space, especially since the houses are larger and more affordable the farther you go out. But I don’t think I could ever do it permanently, especially to my kids.

    Now that I live in a larger metro area, the conveniences are many, but more than anything I think it’s about being surrounded by people with similar values. There’s a lot of diversity in our area, education is important, and there are good jobs and opportunity. Say what you will about how the right and left should talk more, try to understand one another, but I had a really hard time with oppressive rural attitudes and I would die inside if my kids ever had to live through anything similar.

  • Location Efficiency

    When I was looking for a new job, the main criteria was to live in a city that aligned better with my lifestyle choices and personality. I had a good job in Michigan, but I wasn’t thrilled about where I lived. I really just wanted to try something new because I was in a rut, but decided if I were going to make a big move, I’d have to be very deliberate about it because I tend to make decisions with my heart and that usually ends up biting me in the ass.

    I was as analytical as possible when I finally decided where I was going to focus my energies in terms of locations where I wanted to apply for jobs. Location was the single most important decision for me when deciding on a job. 

    First, I put together a spreadsheet of all the things I wanted out of a place. Job prospects, transit, live music, plenty of outdoor activities, weather, you name it. Whatever I valued, I included. I went to all kinds of lengths to find websites that ranked cities and regions by their various characteristics, and then I assigned my own point values. After that, I added up all the points for each place and ranked the cities. Then I applied to jobs in my top 5 places.

    I landed in Portland just about 2 years ago and I feel like my analytical decision-making paid off. I have a decent job, I met my amazing fiancé Shar, and I bought a house. I’m lucky to have the ability to spend most of my free time doing things I love, such as going on hikes and spending time outdoors, exploring Portland and the pacific northwest, working on my fixer upper of a home, and seeing live music. But now my life season is changing again, and it’s time to recalibrate because I'm not just making decisions for myself anymore.

    I bought a house while I was dating Shar and I made the decision based solely on my own lifestyle and what I valued. I wanted to be less reliant on my automobile, so I bought a house on the MAX light rail line dead center between my job and Portland. I didn’t want to have a long commute to work because that can be miserable, time-consuming, and expensive.

    But now that I’m planning on spending my life with someone else and starting a family, my decisions don’t just impact me. My commute is a breeze, but I’m not married to my current work. However, it provides the majority of our income. Shar loves her job but she is about an hour away from her work, both ways in bad traffic. She also drives as part of her job, which doesn’t help things. She comes home satisfied with her work but exhausted because of the drive.

    Therein lies the predicament. I’m big on living close to my work, but she wants to be closer to hers. Our current jobs don’t allow either of us to be close to work at the same time, so that means we have three choices. Maintain the current living arrangement, one of us get a new job, or move again. 

    We haven’t decided what we will do or what values are most important to us in the long run. Right now, there isn’t a win-win situation, and we both are making sacrifices.

    Is having a more fulfilling but lower paying job more important than location? For Shar, the answer is yes, and for me the answer is no. At least for now, but maybe not forever.

    As time goes on, we’ll have to make some tough choices and continue to work on aligning our lifestyle with our life goals. How do you and your partner make decisions on where you work and where you live? What has been most valuable to you?

  • Valuing Your Time

    For someone who studied urban planning, I am not naturally very good at planning ahead for activities in my everyday life, particularly when it comes to how I spend my precious free time. I got into planning because I like cities and I want them to be better places for people to live. But planning for my own happier existence just isn't one of my natural strengths. I've had plenty of happy moments, to be sure, and not all happy moments are planned. But I have to be very intentional and focused to change my natural inclination to not plan ahead because I think it's an important ingredient to living a meaningful life.

    For as far back as I can remember, I've been more of a go-with-the-flow type of person. I like spontaneity, and still value it. And more than likely if someone suggests that we do something fun and I don't already have plans, I'm probably going along for the ride. But there was a time when I relied too heavily on other people to bring value into my life by hitching onto their plans.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with allowing others to bring value into your life. But if you rely on other people for your happiness, you're also giving other people a lot of control over your time, focus, energy, and resources. You may also be putting your friendships at risk if there is a lack of reciprocity by not bringing value into your friends' lives if you're leaning too heavily on them to support your own happiness. 

    Now that spring is upon us, it's the perfect time to plan some summer get-togethers or getaways. You may already have been bombarded with invitations to open houses, weddings, barbecues, and camping trips. If not, I assure you they will come. Sooner than you think. You may even feel an obligation to fill up your calendar with everything that comes your way. But know that planning ahead allows you to be more selective. Planning is being intentionally selfish with your time, but not in the negative sense of the word 'selfish'. The positive form of selfishness ultimately empowers you to spend your time doing what makes you happy with those people who make you feel the happiest. Choice is happiness.

    Before your calendar fills up and spring comes to an end, take a look ahead and think about how you actually want to spend your time this summer. Block out an hour or two on your calendar this weekend (with your partner if you have one) and start brainstorming some of your bucket list items and how you can make them reality in the coming months. If you're tight on cash, think of creative ways to save a little money right now. I'm currently trying out an app called Qapital which helps me save automatically whenever I swipe my card. Without getting too wonky, there are even some cool integrations with the app IFTTT which can reward your savings account when you do things like reach your Health app step count for the day. Maybe it will work for you. Alternatively, maybe you can sell some things from around the house when you get your spring cleaning done. Get creative.

    Even though I'm not a natural planner, I love that slow build of anticipation and excitement that comes with waiting for a trip that I've planned, even if I'm only going away for a long weekend. For a couple of months now, my partner and I have been anticipating a trip to the redwoods, a bucket list item I've wanted to check off for a few years. There is absolutely nothing extravagant or spectacular about what we've planned (aside from the trees, the trees! And if you didn't know, its National Parks Week! Admission is free to parks for Earth Day weekend!). But the anticipation makes it so much sweeter, especially after the hibernation-inducing winter we had. And most of all, it allows us to spend some time on our values instead of letting others dictate them for us.

  • Why Paying Off All of Your Student Debt is Not Always a Good Thing

    On their very popular podcast, the Minimalists recently posted an episode on debt. Generally I think the ideas they espouse are really good, and I've learned a lot of helpful tips from them. In a country where far too many people live in excess, the Minimalists provide a road map for people interested in living happier lives with less.

    However, for those who enjoy their podcast as much as I do, you may have been as disappointed as I am with some of their views on debt. Ryan Nicodemus sort of takes a back seat on this topic, and actually seems more reasonable than Joshua Fields Millburn, suggesting that debt can be used responsibly if necessary. In this episode, Ryan's view is to take on as little debt as you can and pay it off as quickly as possible. Josh, on the other hand, takes an extreme stance that any and all debt is bad — and that the only option is to pay it off immediately — even at the expense of your sanity, precious time, or opportunity costs.

    My suggestion is to not be too hard on yourself if you have certain kinds of debt. Obviously, take an honest assessment of your individual situation and use your gut. If you want to get on a path to freedom from debt, talk to a financial advisor or a friend who is good with their finances if you don’t have the skills yourself. In most cases, the quick payoff is the smartest way to go.

    I won’t go into depth on the Minimalists' ideas about financing your education. Sure, in a perfect world, no one would graduate with any debt for trying to better themselves with higher education. The system is naturally flawed. But just because you did not plan on becoming a doctor or lawyer doesn't mean that it was a bad decision to take on student debt to get ahead and give you leverage to follow your passion. Sure, there are arguments for not getting a degree in certain situations. Sometimes you can work your ass of for a decade, proving yourself over and over again before finally (maybe) winning the lottery for that job of your dreams. But for the vast majority of us, that just isn't an option. Getting a degree is the quickest path to success.

    The long-term earning potential for a college graduate far outweighs the costs over a lifetime. Someone who holds a bachelor’s degree earns almost double that of someone with a high school diploma, on average. Should you minimize the debt you take on? Absolutely. Schools should also do a better job to help students understand the long-term implications of taking on student debt so that a financed summer in Italy or spring break in Cabo just don't look so compelling to an 18 year old.

    In the Minimalists' episode on debt, one caller posed a question via voicemail. She took on $70,000 in debt to go to graduate school and now works for a nonprofit. She is part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and her question for Josh and Ryan was whether or not she should just pay it all off as quickly as possible or put in the 10 years in public service required of the program and have the remaining debt be forgiven? At first, Ryan started by saying that those programs are there for a reason, but Josh quickly responded that she should just “pay it off as soon as possible."

    This is where I wholeheartedly disagree. Because of math. Let's begin with the fact that there is no way for her to erase her decision to take on this debt. Even in bankruptcy, student loans do not go away. However, by working in a public service field, she has the opportunity to have some of her debt forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program through the U.S. Department of Education. Under this program, if you do not make a lot of money (a meaningful career in public service — go figure), you can get on an Income-Driven Repayment Plan. These programs can limit your student loan payments to 10% of your discretionary income, as defined by the amount you make over a certain percentage of the national poverty line. If your loans are big enough, you may not pay even the interest on that loan. I know that sounds scary, but hear me out. After 10 years of payments in a public service job, the remainder of your loan is forgiven. And guess what else? All of that interest that you pay? It’s a tax write-off (up to $2500/yr). Depending on your income, you could get a pretty substantial percentage of your payments back at the end of each tax year.

    Below I run a few basic repayment scenarios outlining why JFM's advice is not only financially bad, but why, in my opinion, it is counter intuitive to a minimalist lifestyle.

    Bear with me while we look at some repayment examples.


    Scenario 1 — Normal Payment Plan:

    $70,000, 7.5%, minimum payment ($517.29) @ 25 years (normal gov’t pmt plan) = $155,188.15 paid in both principal and interest.

    Scenario 2 —Pay Off ASAP (assumes double payments):

    $70,000, 7.5%, double payments ($1034.58) @ 7 years 5 months = $91,277 paid in both principal and interest.

    Scenario 3 — The PSLF Program:

    $70,000, 7.5%, income based repayment plan ($400 @ 2% increases annually due to income growth) = $52,558 repaid (the rest forgiven).


    Potential savings on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program as compared to the double payment scenario is $38,719. And that doesn't even include the tax benefits of up to $2500/yr.

    This is no small sum. Think of all of the things you could do with that money, not least of which would be saving for retirement.

    With a conservative hourly wage at a nonprofit earning $20/hr is $31,200/year after taxes, or $2,600 per month. Double student loan payments would be almost 50% of their income for 7.5 years. We in the affordable housing realm have a name for paying 50% of your income on anything: poverty.

    If she paid the recommended 30% of her income on housing, which is nearly impossible these days with the way that rent is going up, she would be left with about $600-700 per month for ALL of the rest of her needs for seven and a half years. That's less than what the average person living on social security and living in public housing makes.

    I can all but guarantee that if she takes their advice that she is going to have the most miserable seven and half years of her life scrimping and budgeting, all while she was trying to have a better life by going to college, not a worse one.

    The opportunity costs, wasted time, wasted money, and lower quality of life all to repay something that would be forgiven anyway just does not compute for me. We can debate whether or not it was a good idea to get into this much debt in the first place, but the ideas presented on the program represent unsound financial advice.

  • Memorial Day Weekend

    Since I have Fridays off, I had a four day weekend due to the holiday today. I could use more of these. I didn't get any reading done like I had planned, but I had a fun and relaxing weekend regardless.

    On Friday, Kate and I went down to Cedar Point to indulge our need for some cheap excitement. I wasn't feeling the best that day, but we still got in seven or so big coaster rides that shook my general malaise and made me feel truly alive for the first time since I can't remember when. I almost got sick on the Millennium Force, but the initial drop of over 300 feet got me ramped up with a big shot of adrenaline!

    I made it a point to not shy away from any coaster, despite my fear of heights. I wanted to feel afraid. I probably feared Power Tower the most. Usually there are long lines, but since it's an older ride, we got right on it, without the usually mental prep that goes along with waiting and watching others experience it. Power Tower is an ominously tall tower that either shoots you up…or drops you down. We did the version that drops you down. You get cranked up to the top and you sit there for maybe 10 or 15 seconds and the view of lake Erie is tremendous. It was the only thing that kept me from freaking out up at the top. And when it shoots you down the long steel beams faster than gravity, you really almost have an out-of-body experience. At least that's what it felt like to me.

    Top Thrill Dragster was by far the most intense, but still incredibly fun. It shoots you to 120 mph in a matter of a couple seconds down a steel course like a dragstrip, only then to be projected straight up in the air over 400 feet, rolled over a curve that points you straight down, and then careened 270 degrees while still vertical, and back to the origin of the ride. It's short, but that's the fun bit. You're not jolted, save for the initial launch of 120 mph, and you have just enough time to get scared out of your mind before you're back down to the safe ground at sea level. By far my favorite ride at the place.

    The only disappointing thing about the park is that the people there seemed so trashy. I really tried not to judge people too much, but when you're waiting in an hour-long line for a ride, you get pretty up close and personal with a lot of strangers. The girls dressed so raunchy and the guys were all Hollister-wearing surfer wannabees or dirty backwater Midwesterners. I guess that's what I should have expected at a place designed for cheap thrills. But this didn't ruin the day, it was just eye-opening, especially since I don't have a lot of contact with teenyboppers in my everyday life.

    Saturday I went to the lake with my folks and it was jam packed with the same kind of people. A lot of bad tattoos and guys trying to be macho, poor people with kids trying to get a cheap, yet fun, weekend in before they went back to their blue collar lives on Tuesday. I feel like an outsider in those situations, like I don't know how to interact with these Michigan lifers. I know they exist everywhere, but I have to admit that outside of the South, the Midwest probably has the most uncultured white trash in the U.S. I know because I used to be one of them. All the while I try to be more accepting of people, but my lack of understanding of the lives they appear to live has me mind boggled. Funny part is, many of them are no doubt more happy than I am, so who am I to judge?

    I'm not wanting to start the week tomorrow, but it's inevitable. I'm going to get some cleaning and laundry done so I don't have to think about it during the week. Hopefully this weekend recharged my batteries enough to get me through for a couple of weeks. Our next trip will be a small one to Saugatuck on Lake Michigan, where hopefully the quaint beach town feel and lack of campgrounds will keep the crazies away long enough for a nice, calm weekend.

  • A Weight Being Lifted

    I find myself coming back to this place when I'm in transition. Now that I have some extra time, I'll write a little bit.

    I've just finished all of my coursework for graduate school and I turned in my professional project proposal on Friday for approval. If it comes back approved, then I have the go-ahead to start filming a documentary on public participation in the planning process. I won't name the community, but the project involves demolition of homes in the floodplain and gardening on the empty lots. It's exciting that I might get to be critical, but I just want school out of my life.

    Minus 1 year, I have been going to school non-stop since I was 22 and I'm now 29. For six of the last seven years I have worked to support myself while pulling a full course load, right in the heart of my 20s. I feel like this is such a critical developmental stage in a person's life. Despite truly feeling as though I've learned and accomplished much, there is a lot I missed out on. I see my friends who have traveled the world, backpacked, rode motorcycles across the U.S., lived in interesting places, etc., and I've just watched from the sidelines. Year after year, sacrifices. I got in a couple of good experiences here and there. If it wasn't for living in London that Summer after undergrad, I might have exploded. But I've come out the other end of school feeling a bit like I've been in a coma, not knowing who I really am anymore or where I should be or what I'm supposed to do now. It's probably common, but that doesn't make it feel any less real.

    After living at such a fast pace, I'm thinking about getting back to basics and in touch with myself, and in touch with my community. I want to sell my car and remove that payment, buy a bike and really make the effort to use it whenever I can. It leaves me with a feeling of calm the way I'm able to just drink in the neighborhoods at my own pace. I feel a part of it.

    I want to know what it's like to read for pleasure again. I found a book I bought a few years ago, recommended by a friend, that I started and never finished. I want to relax enough to read it and feel like I'm not doing anything wrong by taking time for myself. I want to lay in the yard until the sun creeps behind the trees and I'm forced to go inside for light.

    I will concentrate on being comfortable where I am, while making strides to save money so that my next adventure, a move, is a real possibility. Goals are good.

    It feels so good to write this, like a weight being lifted off of me.

  • End of Summer, End of Crap

    I've found my way back here because of an old friend who always has the right things to say. The funny thing is, I don't even know where to start because I've been bottling things up for so long that I feel like I could explode into a mess of flesh and Type O Positive all over the tacky wayne's coating of my parents' basement. I guess I'll start small, with humility, and without lying to myself anymore. The truth is, I haven't been happy in a really long time. I was just tired of being unhappy and looking unhappy and sounding unhappy, so I adopted a "keep on the sunny side of life" facade, always trying to find the optimist inside of me. In doing so, I neglected a lot of negative energy that should have naturally come out of me in small bits. They are instead now causing nervous breakdown. I thought that writing in this shit once again would help organize some of my thoughts, and vent out some of my frustration. Sounds so generic to say that. But I'm not going to worry about how things sound. I need to do this. Besides, anything over 2 lines in a journal entry always gets skimmed over anyways. Don't worry, I do it too. I'm a hypocrite.

    I have trouble talking. It's not that I don't have anything to say, I really do. My mind races fast with thoughts, but I can't organize them to come out how they should. I linger on statements in my mind before they get filtered down to my mouth, and they never come out as I plan. I pay too close attention to what comes from my mouth, with many pauses. I envy those people who can flow at the mouth as if there were no second thought to what is being said, even if what they are saying is complete and utter garbage in my mind. I call up my friend Derek out west and he's got this brilliant head on him. I don't think he would be offended if I said that he's not what you would call "book smart", but fuck if this kid doesn't have the wit and quickness. He will drive the conversation about his life and somehow make even the most average of everday occurances completely original and awe-inspiring. I don't think I've ever told him that, but Derek, if you're reading this, I really look up to you and admire your fresh look on things. I wish I had that. I just can't think like you do.

    Second is my apathy, which controls life situations as well as speech. I don't really watch TV, so I can't speak about that. I barely even watch or listen to the news anymore. It all sounds like hell and I can't even form my own opinions on what I should feel about certain situations and topics. Perhaps I'm just a coward and afraid to be wrong. I don't have a mind for names, so even if I do watch or hear something, I can never remember who was in it. I can't tell a story for shit. Music is another thing. I've stopped playing music and that really bothers me. I barely even keep up on music anymore and that really bothers me. But at the same time I just don't care to try. I only read one book all summer. Usually I read at least 6 or 7. The scary part is, if I have any down time at all, all I want to do is sit or lie on the couch. I don't like that about myself. I don't like that I can zone out of my life and be complete apathetic about the direction in which it is going, or the person I am becoming.

    There are things in my life that I should feel proud of, but I don't. I'm a senior at at top university in the country and all i can do is kick myself in the ass for not getting it done sooner. I came back to finish a mistake, to finish something I started, and I'm doing well, doing really well, and all I can think about is if I'm doing the right thing. If I shouldn't have cared so much about this stupid degree. I don't feel any smarter than I was when I started back up, and by the time I'm done I'll be 25k in debt (even after the thousands of dollars in grant money). I feel sometimes that I should have followed my passions more instead of compromising myself for this thing we call "growing up". I've just been poor for so long that I wonder what it's like to have nights and weekends off and enough money to actually survive on. I see tons of people that I went to high school with that are married with children and a house and a nice car, and even though I don't want most of these things at this point in my life, I feel like I'm judged for not having them. I feel smarter and more creative than most, yet here they are "successful" by society's standards. I need some validation of my own. Sometimes I just need someone else to tell me that I'm doing the right thing. But where is the moral support these days? We're all just supposed to suck it up and expect nothing from nobody because we're adults now and we can only rely on ourselves.

    I've learned a lot about myself the last few months, while dating Sarah. Come to find out, we're almost emotionally identical. So getting mad at each other was like getting mad at one's self, to find fault in the other was to find fault in one's self. I'm actually furious at her right this moment, but in being so I have to be mad at Bryan. Bryan doesn't like that. Bryan is a stubborn bastard. Bryan shouldn't refer to self in the third person. Maybe this is a topic best left for a later post, for this is ending up to be a nonsensical bunch of words on a page with no order. I don't really care anymore. At this point I'm just talking and letting the words flow as they come because I'm so sick of them staying, battering me from the inside, and giving me headaches. Sarah and I broke up, and I think it's for the better, but I've always been the nostalgic type and have never found it to be easy to let anyone go from my life. I'm sure many can attest to that. Done for now.

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